What is Baylor University? The recent talks of a major shake up in the big 12 conference is once again pushing members of the Baylor community to ask the foundational question about the identity of our university.
This question has been asked, and I suppose answered, very recently with the controversy surrounding the presidency of Robert Sloan. Sloan, among others, proposed what they called Baylor 2012. While there is no one succinct statement about the goal of Baylor 2012 (at least not on the website), the general goal seems to be to raise Baylor to the rank of a top tier research university while retaining its Baptist and Christian heritage.
One of the most tangible changes that have occurred under this vision is the size of the campus. Since I began as a freshman in 1996 the following buildings have been built: the Student Life Center, the Garage Mahal (with the spires), the Business school garage, the Daughtry Garage, the Collins garage (yes, when I started Baylor only had one parking garage), the panhellenic center, the monster science building, Truett Seminary, the Mayborn Museum, the Law School, the Athletics training facility, the indoor practice football field, the Tennis complex, the Baseball and Softball parks, press boxes on the stadium, a new faculty building, North Village residential center, Brooks village residential center, the new bear pit. I'm sure I have missed some, but those are just off the top of my head. It seems as if the campus has doubled since I came to Baylor.
What does all of this have to do with vision 2012 and the Big 12? Money. In an attempt to achieve the broad goal of Baylor 12, the University has needed to raise huge sums of money to build state of the art facilities. Some, perhaps a large amount, of that money has come from our membership in the Big 12. Even though our football teams suck, we still share in some of the proceeds of successful football programs like Texas, A&M, Oklahoma, Nebraska, K-State, etc. Every TV appearance and every bowl game appearance by any big 12 school nets Baylor money.
So, if Baylor gets left out of the conference reshuffling, one of the first things to go will be some cash flow. This in turn could provide one major obstacle in achieving Baylor 2012.
Yet, would that be a bad thing. It comes back to a question of identity and how Baylor's identity is connected to our conference membership. Do we belong in a mega-conference of 16 teams like the possible new Pac-10. Does Baylor share much, with regard to our identity with schools like Texas, Washington, Arizona and Arizona State, Cal, UCLA, etc.?
I would direct you again to Mark Osler's blog, Osler's Razor, for an interesting take on a new conference made up of schools a little bit more like Baylor.
However this whole conference shakeup pans out, one thing is certain, it should cause members of the Baylor community to think about the University's identity and determine who we want to be as a University.